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Barrow Hosptial, Bristol

Ee’s a nutter. Ee awt a be in Barawl Gurnee.

Barrow Hospital is as well known to Bristolians as Brunel, Cary Grant and Cider. While Bristol had its own ‘City Asylum’ which was constructed far earlier (Glenside Hospital, Fishponds), it’s Barrow that everyone will joke about over a pint of apples. Nearly 400 acres of land to the south of the City were purchased and construction began in the mid 1930’s. The hospital was completed ready for patients by 1938 and officially opened in 1939.

No sooner than it had been opened than it closed to serve a change of use to cope with the outbreak of the Second World War. It became a naval hospital until 1946 when it reverted to its original purpose. In the original expansion plans the site could have doubled in size to an almost ‘asylum’ status site with main hall, chapel and upward of 15 additional villas which would have included private patients.

The original build featured a large administration block, traditionally split male/female. Subsequent medical libraries and offices were adjoined to this. At the back of the site was the East Villa used for nurses’ accommodation and The Southside Sick Ward. The west of the site initially featured 4 villas, Dundry, Blagdon, Combe & John Cary. Alongside these buildings were also the Red House (I’m guessing this was a superintendent’s type house), Engineering & Stores. Back over to the North were the gate house, Northside Nurses’ Accomodation Block and The Mother & Baby Villa, which was used for mothers who suffered from post natal depression.

Only the recreation hall and Brockley House, a medium secure unit, were built after the initial 1930’s build. The hall was knocked down around 2002 and can still be seen on flash earth – you can also see that during this time the two HDU villa extensions were being built too.

There are many grim tales and stories that have almost turned into folklore about Barrow. More than one patient took his life during the operating life of the hospital. If you approach the hospital from the Long Ashton side you’ll cross the A370 and notice the anti-suicide fences that now adorn the bridge after one patient threw themselves off the bridge and onto subsequent oncoming traffic.

The most famous death at Barrow is that of the nurse who allegedly hung herself in the woods that completely surround the site. It’s believed due to the depressing nature of her day to day duties at Barrow that she could take it no more.

Barrow, though, will always be remembered more for its final days and the subsequent national press attention. In 2003 it was decided that the hospital would close down, with the last patients leaving the site around the middle of 2008.

By 2004 the only wards remained in use were Brockley House – a medium secure unit only built in the late 1990s – and two villas – Dundry & John Cary. Both these villas were High Dependency Wards (HDU) and had only a couple of years earlier had extensions added to the rear of the villas. Dundry was for acute cases, John Cary for more long term illnesses.

The closure of Barrow was brought forward though after a national inspection of Hospital cleanliness deemed it unacceptably dirty and used that now well known line ‘The Dirtiest Hospital in the UK’. As a result of this report both HDU units were closed with immediate effect. Brockley House closed shortly after once the patients could be relocated and after 66 years the hospital had served its last patient.

The planned future use of the site is a mixed business/residential site but at the moment the planning applications are still being contested on the grounds of the very poor access roads leading to the site. With the current ‘credit crunch’ it might be that site simply disappears back into the countryside that it was until 70 years ago and maybe, just maybe, that would be for the best.

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4 comments

  1. Sharon Ready -Lang

    My father in law worked at the old Barrow Hospital for a number of years . He worked the switchboard in The Lodge at the entrance to barrow hospital . He met his 2nd wife there and they used to live in the staff accomodation at barrow. Today we scattered both there ashes under the big oak tree near the orchard which was my father in laws wish . A big thanks to Tom from the security firm . He arranged to meet us at the entrance and let us in in order for us to scatter the ashes . RIP ken John Lang( KJL) and Joan Lang .

  2. katrina stone

    I was a nurse at Barrow Hosital in the 70s ,Sad to see it as it is now i Worked on the southside wards dementia care , and also worked on the mother and baby unit , Lots of memmories of My time there . I would love to hear from other nurses that worked there in the 70s and 80s … and true to say a lot of sad cases , I remember the social club there in the nurses home cheap booze and late night opening that attracted the long ashdon crowd that were not nurses . but just wanted a late night drink

  3. I love all these photos and the info, you must spend a lot of your time researching, so thank you from me for spending the time to enlighten me about things we as kids only knew Barrow Gurney as a “nut house”.
    Kay 🙂

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